'Day of Unity' in New Albany, IN offers tactics for confronting bigotry

NEW ALBANY — Dig into the messiness.

That’s what the roughly 60 people who gathered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Albany for a “Day of Unity” on Saturday were tasked with.

They were asked to examine how they can confront bigotry and hate in their daily lives. They were reminded that most of the people in the room were white. They were told they had an even greater responsibility to speak out against racism.


And when Floyd County Democratic Chair Adam Dickey reminded them of Heather Heyer, the woman struck and killed by a car during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12, the room fell silent.

That silence thickened as Dickey named the two officers who died in a helicopter crash while responding to the rally: Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M. M. Bates.

“That hate that was emanated in that rally does not reflect their community anymore than it reflects our community,” Dickey said.

Which is why the Day of Unity was organized — to send a message that “racism, hatred and bigotry” won’t go unopposed in Floyd County and to teach people how to oppose it. The event was put together by the Floyd County Democratic Party and SoIndivisible, a left leaning grassroots political organization, in the week after Charlottesville.

Before jumping into a day of learning and discussion, Dickey recited an abbreviated version of Martin Niemoller’s post-World War II poem “First they Came.”

"First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me."


But, Dickey admitted, intervening in the face of bigotry can be “intimidating.”

“What do you do? How do you respond?" he asked.

Megan Willman, deputy chair for community outreach for the Floyd County Democrats and vice president for the county’s Democratic Women’s Caucus, was there to help answer those questions. Willman is a Title IX outreach coordinator and has advocated for victims of domestic violence.

“I think that what we most need to take away from today is just that we all have a responsibility to do something, particularly those of us that are the most privileged — white people,” Willman said.

“[We want] to figure out in our own safe ways how to help others, how to give voice to those that maybe don't have one.”


Willman stressed that confronting bigotry head on isn’t always about changing minds. Instead, “bystander intervention” is about reducing potential harm for the persons being targeted.

After going over tactics and dos and don’ts, Willman handed our scenarios for groups to discuss, and they weren’t always centered around bigotry. For example, one scenario asked what the group would do if they saw a couple arguing and getting physically violent.

Another scenario asked how they might respond when they hear qualifiers like “black lawyer” or “Muslim man” in everyday conversations.

Jo-Claire Corcoran’s group, which included her grandson and husband, discussed a scenario where someone makes a derogatory comment about someone who is gay. She said the scenario wasn’t so far off from what a family friend has experienced.

“Ad we all pretty much decided [in that scenario] to stand up and say, If you don’t like it, you can leave,” Corcoran said.

She added she doesn’t have a problem confronting bigotry or bad behavior. In fact, she said, she may be a bit too confrontational.

“Instead of being so confrontational — which I have a tendency to be — maybe calm that down a little bit and do some of the other tactics to kind of just diffuse the situation first,” Corcoran said.

After about 15 minutes of discussion, the groups were asked to share what they learned. There was no shortage of raised hands and follow-up questions — only a shortage of time to dig into the messiness.


Original article here